Friday, March 14, 2014

The Passover Meal

The Passover meal and celebration is a very ancient tradition among the Jews. It goes back to the time of Moses, when God rescued the Israelites from slavery and led them out of Egypt. Some believe that the Passover originated among an agricultural people as part of a festival of sacrifice that was thought to bring divine blessing upon the flocks and herds of the people. The Passover meal is traditionally held in remembrance of the night when God passed through the land of Egypt and struck down all the firstborn males in the land. But when God saw that the Israelites were obedient, and had placed the blood of the lamb upon their door frames, he passed over them, and the plague of death did not enter their homes. 

Preparations for the Passover celebration began long before the sacrifice of the lamb took place. The preparations included the members of the family looking through the house for yeast or for anything that contained yeast. All yeast was supposed to be removed from the house. After the removal of all the yeast from the house, the father of the house would make one last thorough search to make sure there was no yeast. The mother of the house would purposely leave a few bread crumbs somewhere in the house for him to find. These crumbs would then be removed by the husband and taken outside of the house and burned. In the afternoon, the Passover lambs would be killed at the Temple, and the Passover meal would begin that night as soon as the first few stars began to come out. 

The meal would begin with the lighting of the candles. It was the role of the mother to light the candles. After this, the Father of the house, or whoever was in charge that evening would take a cup of wine and announce the traditional blessing. “This blessing was recited on Sabbaths and on other holy days and included the blessing of the wine, and the blessing of the day” (Routledge). Every person who participated in the Passover was required to drink four cups of wine throughout the course of the meal. This wine was mixed with water in order to prevent the participants from becoming drunk. These four cups represented the four promises found in Exodus chapter six, verses six through seven. God told Moses to say to the Israelites: 

“I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the LORD your God, who brought you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians.” 

The first promise is that God will bring the Israelites out of Egypt. The second promise is that God will free the Israelites from being slaves to the Egyptians. The third promise God gives is that He will redeem them. The fourth promise is that God will make them His own people. 

In the New Testament, at the Last Supper, Jesus took the first cup, which was known as the Cup of Sanctification, took a sip from it after saying the blessing, and then passed the cup around to His disciples. Some families choose to drink from the same cup. Others choose to have their own separate cups. 

After the blessing, the people would wash their hands before handling the food. After everyone was finished washing, they then took their vegetables and dipped them into bowls of salt water. The salt water represented the tears of the Israelites as they had suffered in the land of Egypt because of their slave drivers. When God appeared to Moses in the burning bush, He said: 

"I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey…” 

The dipping of the vegetables would also remind the Israelites of how they had dipped a hyssop plant into the blood of the lamb and used it to wipe the blood onto the doorposts of their homes on the night that God passed through the land of Egypt. 

After everyone had dipped the vegetables in the salt water, it was time to uncover the three sheets of Matzo, or bread made without yeast. The reason bread without yeast is eaten is because when the Israelites left the land of Egypt they did not have enough time to wait for the dough rise. In Deuteronomy chapter sixteen, God says: 

“Observe the month of Abib and celebrate the Passover of the LORD your God, because in the month of Abib he brought you out of Egypt by night. Sacrifice as the Passover to the LORD your God an animal from your flock or herd at the place the LORD will choose as a dwelling for his Name. Do not eat it with bread made with yeast, but for seven days eat unleavened bread, the bread of affliction, because you left Egypt in haste—so that all the days of your life you may remember the time of your departure from Egypt.” 

During the meal, the youngest son of the family is supposed to ask four questions. One of these questions is: Why is this night different from all other nights? The answer to this question is given throughout the meal. 

After this, the first part of the Hillel was sung, which consisted of Psalms 113 and 114. After the singing of the Psalms, the second cup was drunk. This cup was known as the Cup of Freedom, and it reminded the people that God had kept His promise to free them from the Egyptians. 

After this, it was time to begin the main part of the meal so everybody washed their hands again. In order to begin the main meal, the host blessed the Matzo, broke it, and shared it with everybody. In the New Testament, at the Last Supper, Jesus also broke the bread and gave it to His disciples. At this point, Jesus showed the significance of the breaking of the bread. The Gospel of Luke records that: 

“When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. And he said to them, ‘I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.’ 
“After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, ‘Take this and divide it among you. For I tell you I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.’ 
“And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.’” 

At the Last Supper, Jesus showed how the Passover sacrifice had been pointing to Him. The symbolism of the Passover pointed to what He would do when He offered His life in sacrifice for the salvation of the world. It was a traditional part of the Passover meal to talk about the different parts of the meal and to explain how they related to salvation. Jesus does this at the Last Supper, but He goes beyond the tradition of remembering the Exodus of Israel out of Egypt, and goes on to point to the New Covenant, which does not depend upon the blood of animals, but upon His blood. 

After the Passover story is read, the rest of the meal is served, which includes the lamb. Next, everybody is supposed to take a piece of Matzo and dip it into the bowl of bitter herbs, or horseradish. The bitter herbs are to be a remembrance of the bitterness the Israelites faced when they were slaves in Egypt. They also serve as a reminder to Christians of how our lives were bitter before we came to know Christ, because of the slavery of our sin. 

After the tasting of bitterness, the Matzo is dipped a second time. But this time it is dipped in a sweet dessert made of apples, nuts, and honey, known as Charoseth. To the Israelites, the Charoseth represented the bricks and mortar that they used when they were slaves, but it also pointed to the fact that to have hope of something better is a sweet thing. 

At this point in the meal, the three sheets of bread are presented. As Christians, we see the symbolism of the three sheets of bread as representing the three parts of the Trinity – God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. The middle piece of bread, which represents the Son, is taken and broken. When we take this bread and we break it, we remember that the body of Jesus was broken for us. 

The bread that has been broken is then wrapped in the white cloth and hidden somewhere in the house. When we do this, we remember that Christ’s body was wrapped in burial cloths and hidden in the ground for three days. For three days His body was hidden in the grave. After the piece of broken bread is wrapped in the cloth and hidden, the children are then told to go and search for it. The one who finds it is rewarded. In a similar way, the one who searches for Christ and finds Him is rewarded with great joy. The bread does not remain hidden forever. It is brought back. In the same way, Jesus did not remain dead forever. He was brought back to life. 

At this point, the main portion of the meal has ended, and the third cup is drunk. This cup is known as the Cup of Redemption, or the Cup of Blessing. Many people believe that this was the cup which Jesus took at the end of the Last Supper, when he said to His disciples, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” 

On the night of the first Passover, the blood of a lamb had been wiped on the door frames of the Israelites’ homes. This had allowed the Israelites to be saved from death and from slavery to the Egyptians. Now, when we celebrate Passover, or the Lord’s Supper, we remember that it is through the blood of Christ that we have been set free from sin and death. 

After the third cup had been drunk, the fourth cup was filled, and Psalms 115-118 were sung. These Psalms were known as the second part of the Hillel. The fourth cup was known as the Cup of praise, and was associated the promise God had given to the Israelites which said that God would take them as His own people, and He would be their God. 

In the Passover meal children always played an important part. The children were supposed to ask questions about what was happening. One question that a child might ask his father is, “Why do you do this?” The father would then say, “I do this because of what God did for me. I was once a slave, but God set me free.” This is what the Passover is all about. 



Routledge, Robin L. "Passover and Last Supper." Tyndale Bulletin. 53.2 (2002): 203-221.  

Prosic, Tamara. "Passover in Biblical Narratives." Journal for the Study of the Old Testament. 82 
(Mr 1999): 45-55.  

Wagenaar, Jan A. "Passover and the first day of the festival of Unleavened Bread in the priestly 
festival calendar." Vetus Testamentum. 54.2 (2004): 250-268. 

Casey, Maurice. "The Date of the Passover Sacrifices and Mark 14:12." Tyndale Bulletin. 48.2 
(1997): 245-247.  

Brenner, Athalya; van Henten, Jan W. "Food and drink in the biblical worlds." Semeia. 86 
(1999): ix-xvi,1-233. 

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